Modes of Transportation

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt


Drama Teens & Young Adult

It was almost midnight, and Kevin was doing about sixty in his dad’s MG. He was in the right lane on Highway 76, a four-lane from Clemson to Anderson, South Carolina. There was a three-foot-wide asphalt median full of gravel and broken glass.

The road was curving to the left as he passed Tony Patterson’s house. Their floodlight helped him see their yellow translucent glass ball on the pedestal in their front yard. People thought gazing balls kept birds away from your garden, but Kevin thought they looked tacky. They belonged in trailer parks, not here, where the thousands of visitors coming from out of state to the university would see it.

Gazing balls aside, Kevin had nothing against Tony; at least not yet. Tony was a grade behind Kevin in school, but Tony was older. Kevin had started in Mississippi, which had a later cutoff. Kevin was among the youngest in his graduating class of 1979. His eighteenth birthday would be in November of his freshman year at Clemson.

Last year Kevin, Tony, and several other boys took the two-day course to be school bus drivers. South Carolina was unique in allowing student drivers. The first half-day was classroom lectures and a slide show of gruesome bus accidents, many of which involved railroad crossings. For the remainder of the class, the boys were on a bus with an instructor. They took turns driving and making comments about the driver from the back of the bus. Tony became a full-time driver, while Kevin, busy with sports, only substituted a handful of times.

The MG barreled on through the light rain at ninety feet per second.

It had been a full day for Kevin. He awoke at dawn and went for a long run before the temperatures hit the eighties. In high school, the tennis team did a quick two-mile warm-up before practice. When he wasn't playing a tennis match, he was the only miler on the newly formed track team. He never placed better than fifth or broke a five-minute mile. He had not done any distance running all summer, and he remembered that the ROTC Cadre warned him to stay in shape because his ROTC scholarship depended on it.

After a shower and bowl of cereal, he drove to Clemson to complete registration, which involved standing in line and crisscrossing the campus for approvals.

He was relieved to get the blank check from his dad out of his pocket before he could lose it. ROTC would pay for tuition and books, and, since he would be living at home only twelve miles away for the first semester, the check was for the commuter parking pass and a lunch-only meal plan.

Lastly, he picked up his girlfriend Cece for some fast food and a walk around the botanical gardens. She would be a senior this year at Daniel High School. Even though they were at neighboring schools, the two had only met this summer while working as YMCA camp counselors.

After dinner, they went to her house. Her parents and sister left the living room, leaving them alone to watch a movie. His late-nights with Cece had become increasingly later.

Kevin’s parents used to be awake when he came home, but at this hour he was sure they were in bed.

He had the road memorized from the hundreds of times he had driven it to school and his jobs. First, he was a bag boy at the Bi-Lo in Pendleton, where he bore the summer heat taking groceries to customers' cars for $2.35 an hour. Later, he earned five cents an hour more as a cashier at Tribble’s Superette, a convenience store. Soon he would be taking this road to college every day.

His windshield fogged in the hot, rainy drizzle as he rounded the curve.

Growing up in Mississippi, he and his brothers read small paperback books published by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The books were intriguing with their descriptions and drawings of fantastic feats and oddities from around the world.

How ironic, he thought. When his family moved here a few years ago, he and his brothers were excited to realize they would be living near a famous structure they had read about in one of their Ripley’s books. It was just ahead of him on Highway 76; only three miles from his house.

The book exclaimed in bold cartoon font that FIVE MODES OF TRANSPORTATION ALL CROSS AT THE SAME LOCATION. The drawing clearly showed a bridge with a car crossing over a small river with a canoe. Then a large train trestle crossed over both the river and the highway at the same location.

When the boys saw the real train trestle, they were not disappointed. To them, it was an engineering marvel. The drawing also showed a person walking beside the road and an airplane flying overhead, but the boys knew the three modes that mattered most were the car, the boat, and the train. Ripley, true to form, added an airplane and a pedestrian to sensationalize it.

At highway speeds, the noise from the MG’s convertible roof was louder than the radio. Officially, it was a 1970 Morris Garage Model B Roadster, or MGB for short. Only twenty-five thousand had a split chrome bumper leaving a space for the license plate. His dad had researched and matched the original MGB Blaze Orange paint mix in the days before automated matching.

The MG’s four-speed manual transmission had adequate acceleration, zero to sixty in eleven seconds, but its low center of gravity and proximity to the engine made it seemed much faster.

Without airbags, Kevin’s father put both his feet on the dashboard while teaching Kevin to drive. “Work the clutch and gas in opposition. Mash the clutch to the floor. Pause at neutral. Slip the clutch. Ride it out before shifting,” were his go-to instructions.  

He had helped his dad work on the MG, including replacing the clutch, but Kevin was not as interested in maintaining it as he was in driving it, which he did a lot; his entire senior year. It was sporty, and he had taken out many girls with it; too many to be serious about any of them.

Kevin was excited about driving the car in the Pendleton Memorial Day Parade. He had waxed the MG and removed the top. He hoped he would have a beauty queen perched on the back. Instead, he was assigned the portly mayor of Pendleton, wearing a sport coat and tie.

It was just as well. Kevin could not make the car accelerate smoothly. The sweaty mayor cursed at Kevin as he wobbled back and forth, trying to wave at his constituents and keep from tumbling off the back.

The MG seatbelts were similar to those for passengers on airplanes. Kevin usually did not bother to dig them out from under the seat. His father recommended he take his license test in their 1970 light blue Chrysler Satellite Station Wagon.

He didn’t want any trouble with the officer about the seatbelts, but the station wagon was an inch short of seventeen feet long. The parallel parking distance was twenty-four feet, and the parallel-parking test required getting within eighteen inches of the curb on the first try.

Kevin's homemade twenty-three-foot practice area on the driveway paid off. “Put the vehicle in park, please.” The officer opened the passenger door, looked at the wheels, and chuckled. “About four inches; impressive in this boat. I had my doubts.”

In the MG, he could have gotten within four inches of the curb without using reverse.

Kevin was amazed at how his memories took him to places in a matter of seconds. He opened his eyes and saw the reflectors on an eighteen-wheeler stopped just ahead of him under the railroad trestle.

His reflexes were automatic. He pulled the rack and pinion steering to his left without losing control. The MG responded like the high-performance, rally car it was designed to be. It moved cleanly one lane to the left, missing the truck by inches and then missing the driver who was scrambling back into the truck cab after checking his clearance under the trestle.

Kevin resumed breathing, and his heart began to slow. He drove home wide awake, repeatedly reviewing the most terrifying few seconds of his life.

In the following months, he reviewed the incident, wondering what could have happened, the consequences he avoided, being decapitated and wedged under the eighteen-wheeler.

He thought about his parents receiving a call that every parent dreads. It pained him to think of it. It was hard to explain how close he came to dying, so he didn’t try.

Several months later, he drove to Cece’s house for what would be the last time. He saw Tony’s jeep parked in her driveway, confirming a rumor he had heard. Kevin felt jealousy and remorse. He ignored her calls. It was too late; he had given up on her, but he still remembered that night.

He remembered that night when he crossed the bridge on a long run. Years later, he flew from Baltimore to Atlanta, and he realized he was over the trestle, and he remembered that night.

When he and his six-year-old son canoed under the Three and Twenty Creek Bridge, his memory transported him to that night.

He remembered it every time he brought his wife and children back for Clemson football games. "We know, dad. This is where five modes of transportation cross," his children would say when they passed it.

He never said what he really wanted to, but he always remembered how he almost died.

January 01, 2021 21:24

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Richard E. Gower
02:46 Feb 16, 2023

This sounds frighteningly like something you experienced personally. Certainly met the criteria for an event that happened across the span of ten seconds....and had me holding my breath. Well done! RG


Dan Taylor
20:54 Feb 17, 2023

Thanks. I pulled from my memoir.


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Mary Bendickson
22:59 Mar 04, 2023

Just knew this was a true story. Lots of gritty details. You definitely are an engineer and a car guy just like my husband. Recently wrote a story for a different site about how my teenaged sister died in a car accident 55 years ago. Still painful to think about. Someday if a prompt comes near to it I might use it here.


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